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Saturday, January 29, 2011

In Egypt, government resigns amid anti-Mubarak sentiment

Cairo, Egypt The Cabinet of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak officially resigned on Saturday as thousands of demonstrators staged protests in Cairo and Alexandria, kicking off another day of anti-government ferment.
The atmosphere in Cairo's Tahrir Square remained tense as demonstrators continued chants of, "Down with Mubarak."
And on Saturday, state-run Nile TV reported that officials in the country had stepped down hours after Mubarak announced that he asked the government to resign.
In Cairo, demonstrators also chanted, "We are all Egyptians," and people gathered in the square were posing for pictures with tanks and shaking troops' hands.
Tahrir Square, located near many government buildings in downtown Cairo, has been a focal point for anti-government protests, which started Tuesday.
The demonstrations crescendoed Friday as Egyptian soldiers moved onto the streets, the first time the army had been deployed to quell unrest since 1985.
Cell phone service appeared to have been restored Saturday morning -- a day after the internet went dark in many parts of the country, and some text messaging and cell phone services appeared to be blocked amid calls for intensified protests.
Police fired tear gas on protesters who were pushing toward the country's Interior Ministry in Cairo Saturday.
At least 2,000 protesters had gathered in Raml Square in Alexandria on Saturday. There was no sign of police, and protests appeared peaceful.
Protesters smiled and shook hands with troops patrolling the area. One soldier cradled a baby and posed for a picture.
People chanted, "No for Mubarak and his dynasty" and "the military and the people together will change the regime."
The Egyptian president said early Saturday that he asked the country's government to resign after thousands of angry Egyptians defied a government curfew and faced stinging police tear gas as they marched for change.
"I asked the government to resign today and I will commission a new government to take over tomorrow," Mubarak said in a national address on Saturday shortly after midnight.
As Mubarak spoke, Egyptian tanks rolled into the country's major cities after the nation's police force had been largely faced down by protesters on Friday. Demonstrators burned police stations in Cairo and Alexandria, and overturned and torched police vehicles.
U.S. President Barack Obama said he talked with the Egyptian president.
"I just spoke to him after his speech, and told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise," Obama said in a televised appearance. "Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away."
Mubarak said in his speech that "these protests arose to express a legitimate demand for more democracy, need for a greater social safety net, and the improvement of living standards, fighting poverty and rampant corruption."

"I understand these legitimate demands of the people and I truly understand the depth of their worries and burdens, and I will not part from them ever and I will work for them everyday," he said. "But regardless of what problems we face, this does not justify violence or lawlessness."
A senior Obama administration official, meanwhile, said Friday evening that Mubarak's speech was "hardly conciliatory and highly disappointing, but what did you expect?"
It's clear, the official said -- speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter -- that Mubarak believes he can ride this out, "and this time, we're not so sure that is the right assumption."
Celebratory crowds that had gathered overnight Friday ahead of Mubarak's speech, expecting him to announce his resignation, quickly transformed into street demonstrations when the president announced he was staying put.
The streets of downtown Cairo appeared to calm somewhat overnight Friday and Saturday morning as the army -- a much more respected force than police among Egyptian civilians -- took control of the country.
The government cracked down throughout Friday with thousands of riot and plainclothes police, later joined by army troops in tanks and armored personnel carriers equipped with gun turrets. Undeterred, people ran, screamed, hurled rocks and accosted walls of security as they tried to make their way to central Cairo.
Protesters defied a curfew imposed Friday night and other warnings, continuing their demands for an end to Mubarak's authoritarian 30-year-rule.
The headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party was ablaze Friday night. Nile TV said protesters ransacked the building and set it afire.
In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria on Friday, at least 1,000 protesters gathered and youths hurled rocks through black clouds of gas. In Suez, 15,000 riot police were out, using tear gas to disperse crowds, Nile TV said. Riot police also confronted protesters in the cities and towns of Ismailia, Fayoum and Shbin Elkoum, according to the anti-government group Egyptian Liberation.
At least six people have died in the demonstrations this week, according to Egypt's Interior Ministry. But Nile TV reported Friday that 13 have died and 75 were injured in Suez, south of Cairo, citing medical sources
As the government cracked down on protesters across Egypt, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who returned home to Cairo to join the demonstrations, was placed under house arrest, a high-level security source told CNN.
The protests sent ripples around the world, with stocks plunging on news of Egypt unrest and airlines cancelling flights.
The protests in Egypt come weeks after similar disturbances sparked a revolution in Tunisia, forcing then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country. Those demonstrations were also followed by protests in Algeria, Yemen and Jordan.
Mubarak has not been seen in public for some time. He is 82 and there has been speculation of failing health. Many Egyptians believe Mubarak is grooming his son, Gamal, as his successor, a plan that could be complicated by demands for democracy.

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